In 1934, the first ever known set of quintuplets who survived infancy were born in a house with no electricity and running water in Ontario. No one expected them to survived. Yvonne, Cecile, Annette, Marie, and Emilie Dionne were two months premature and weighed a combined weight of just 14 pounds. Individually, they were so small, they fit in one hand.
Fortunately, neighbors and the Canadian Red Cross made an effort to help them and they did survive. Little did they know, this was not a cause for celebration. In May 1935, the girls’ father signed a contract with some promoters for the Chicago World’s Fair to exhibit his daughters.
Although the father did try to cancel the contract a day after he signed, the Canadian government felt that they had to do something to prevent the exploitation of the quintuplets. The girls were brought across the street from their parents at a hospital compound that was later named Quintland.
However, in an unfortunate turn of events, the Canadian government turned the girls into Canada’s largest tourist attraction. The nurses assigned to care for them would display them on a balcony for the enjoyment of the crowd below. Their playtime was in a mesh room where people could watch them like animals in a zoo.
This went on for nine years until the parents won the case to get them back. During that time, World War II was starting, the attendance in Quintland already dropped, and the novelty of the girls’ cuteness had run out. After nine years of being placed in a circus-like environment, the girls made quite an achievement — from magazine covers to advertisements and even novelty shops featuring their names and faces. At one point, their father even sold stones from their farm to jump on the bandwagon.
In total, the Canadian government earned as much as $500 million for Ontario in less than a decade, ultimately keeping it from being bankrupt.
When the girls were nine, their parents won custody. They went on to live with their parents, but the transition from a sheltered lifestyle to the parents’ rural living style proved to be difficult.
When they were 18, they left home and cut all ties with their family. They went on and lived their lives out of the spotlight. In 1954, Emilie joined the convent but died of a seizure shortly after.
At 21, the remaining girls were bestowed a small amount (compared to what they really earned) by the Canadian government for the money they earned for Ontario. During that nine years, the girls were being visited by tourists more than Niagra Falls.
Marie, Cecile, and Annette eventually had their own families which they raised but all ended in divorce. In 1970, Marie passed away, and the three remaining sisters lived together in one house in a suburb of Montreal. Yvonne passed in 2001, leaving the two sisters living normal and private lives until now.
Image via Messy Nessy Chic